As a teenager, I remember my grandma moaning to me about getting older.
I am old now, she would say, I have become stupid. Now I am useless.
I would reassure her, saying, You are still young. You are not useless.
My eyesight isn’t bright anymore, she would say, I don’t see as clearly. I cannot thread a needle. And I can’t hear anymore. And I don’t know how to think anymore. I cannot remember anything. I am old, useless. You are still young, you don’t know.
She was right. I didn’t understand. She was kind, and tried to describe and explain it to me. Sadly, she passed away a few years after that.
We understand, in theory, that older persons are slower, less coordinated, and they see and hear less well. In truth, it is difficult for young persons to imagine how older people experience the world. But there’s a way to simulate the experience… and here’s how it’s done:
1. Put on a pair of goggles with vaseline smeared on the lenses so you get a blurred view of the world,
2. Stick a pair of earplugs in your ears.
3. Get someone to duct-tape three fingers in each hand together so you can simulate arthritis,
4. If you have access to a wheelchair, get in and have someone to push you around.
Now if you tried to do the following things, you’d immediately have problems.
a) go to toilet – you’ll find it hard to undo your pants with “arthritic” fingers
b) take an elevator – can you even see whether the elevator coming is going up or down? can you get in or out before the door shuts on you?
c) buy something – can you hear what’s going on? can you count the money in your hand? can you hand the correct amount over?
I had the “privilege” of being a victim in the above experiment. After a period, I was quite giddy and frustrated with the world. Imagine if those were the conditions day after day, year after year.
So I am more sympathetic now, and more patient. And I sometimes find myself telling my children, I am getting older now, things are breaking down; you are young, you don’t understand.